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Author: Mxolisi Mchunu
Title: Zulu Fathers and Their Sons: Sexual Taboos, Respect, and their Relationship to the HIV/AIDS Pandemic
Publication info: Ann Arbor, Michigan: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
June 2005

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Source: Zulu Fathers and Their Sons: Sexual Taboos, Respect, and their Relationship to the HIV/AIDS Pandemic

no. ns 2, June 2005


Mxolisi R Mchunu, University of KwaZulu-Natal Durban

An Overview

Several theoretical studies on the anthropological understanding of respect appear to limit the topic to traditional African women respecting their in-laws and husbands. Vilakazi states that when an umakoti (brand new wife) serves her apprenticeship with her mother-in-law, she is very closely watched and taught the culture of the family into which she marries. She has to hlonipha her in-laws, i.e. treat them with respect and deference. [2] This behaviour generally referred to as hlonipha (literally meaning respect) centres on avoidance. The bride avoids addressing her parents-in-law directly, avoids looking them directly in the face and even when referring to them she uses a particular hlonipha vocabulary. As a stranger in her husband's family it often takes years before she is fully incorporated. Certain rituals may be performed in the course of time after marriage to mark this process of incorporation. A woman who has borne a number of children, especially sons, is eventually fully accepted in her husband's family. [3]

As indicated, a particularly exaggerated and still operative [4] mode of respect applying to women is Inhlonipho, or a language of respect. It has been defined in a number of ways, but in a nutshell, it describes a custom between relations-in-law, and is generally but not exclusively applied to females, who, when married, are not allowed to pronounce or use words which have for their principle syllable any part or syllable of the names of their husbands' chief's or their relations, especially their father-in-law; from whom they should keep at a distance. The daughters-in-law adopt the habit of inventing new names or have specific linguistic mechanisms in order to avoid the tabooed syllable. This avoidance process extends back in time usually as far as the great-grandfather-in-law. A question one may ask is: Where did respect and avoidance custom come from and what is its purpose?

Contemporary masculinity theory states that masculinity is not inherited nor is it acquired in a one-off way. It is constructed in the context of class (and/ or culture), race and other factors which are interpreted through the prism of age. [5] One must not look at gender relations in isolation, and it is important to consider the cultural (in this case Zulu culture) as traditional values and attitudes that are still operative. My male informants, especially those of the 1st generation are so acculturated into their Zulu culture as not to see themselves as being in anyway derogatory towards women. To both Zulu males and females it is the right thing to do, and neither sex see it as being abusive to women, such concepts being alien and meaningless in their life experience. The 2nd generation and 3rd generation people, because they live in more modern times where they are influenced by current media and academic debates, are more willing to compromise and some extreme hlonipha customs are relaxed. For instance the younger generation do not mind being called by name by their wives once they get married, yet are undecided on other respect behaviours, not wishing for instance to sit with their sons' girlfriends or wives. One could say that the expression of Zulu masculinity, in this case the demand for young wives and girlfriends to show respect and deference in the context of culture is subject to change, and it is experienced as excessive in modern times. However, there are some demands of avoidance that nevertheless have not changed and one needs to question why these are still applied. Presumably it is because they are central to the culture value system and I intend to indicate why this is so further into this paper.

To understand the pressure of enculturation one must realize that boys and men are not entirely free to choose those images which please them, but they are also informed by cultural ones. I quote Debbie Epstein and Richard Johnson who offer the following observation:

Human agents cannot stand outside culture and wield power precisely as they wish. Power is always limited and shaped by systems of knowledge which also shape the subjects and objects of power. ...power/ knowledge position us as subjects of particular kinds. They put pressure on us to adopt particular this particular sense, power and knowledge as discourse 'constructs' social identities. [6] (1998:15)

Morrell continues by commenting that while the majority of men mostly perpetuate and reproduce dominant gender relations and forms of masculinity, there are some men who either consciously or unconsciously oppose the hegemonic prescriptions of 'exemplary' masculinity. [7] According to the above theory my informants would be perpetuating a 'dominant Zulu masculinity.' I am not entirely decided upon how to categorize Zulu males who oppose 'exemplary Zulu masculinity'. There is no doubt that they do exist and I would wonder if men from my rural area of KwaShange who fail to fulfil Zulu cultural ideals about being breadwinners and homestead heads are not transgressors 'outside societal norms', while young men of the 3rd generation, who have demanded to put an end to the curse of HIV/AID killing or 'finishing' families force change from within. Relevant to this is the statement by cultural theorist, Jonathan Dollymore (1991) [8] that he has located such forms of opposition exemplary masculinity into two categories of transgressive or transformative behaviour. The categories describe two types of dissident behaviour; one which transgresses but remains beyond or outside societal norms, and another which transgresses and forces change in existing norms and perceptions. [9]

The Context of Respect and Avoidance: A Historiography

It appears that the indigenous cultures of southern Africa all possess a language of respect. For instance it was said in a SABC documentary on the San people, by a renowned specialist in the San languages, Tony Traill, the! Xoo San people have a well-developed avoidance language and custom taught during initiation of both males and females and he hoped to compare it with Southern Bantu examples, like that of the Nguni and South Sotho. Among the Bantu-speakers it appears that such avoidance language remains especially applicable to women. [10]

Reasons for this linguistic form of respect may be advanced, such as the intention that the daughter-in-law should be aware that she has not been born into her husband's particular family and thus a distinction should be drawn between her and the family's biological daughters. Further, she should also be conscious of her new state and, by respecting her in-laws through avoiding their names, even though some are deceased, she may also be seen to be respecting the ancestors of her new home. This is because the ukuhlonipha rules always have magico-religious sanctions behind them, so she must treat the ground very carefully, but in essentials. The rules she observes are observed by all the child-bearing women of the umuzi [11] and thereby, in turn, she should be respected and protected herself.

Respect and avoidance are, thus behaviours that deliberately place a distance between the observer and that which is to be avoided, usually persons (both living and dead) which are generally considered sacred and of high status in the culture. In the case of women in traditional African patriarchal societies, those respected and avoided are males usually husbands, fathers, fathers-in-law and their ancestors. Women are outside of this particular kin group. As outsiders they are nevertheless in an ambiguous position because they are the bearers of children to this particular kin group. It is for this reason that they are a danger to this very group as they could for instance bring witchcraft into their adopted homes. For these reasons women are particularly subject to the control that is facilitated by strict taboos, which require respect and avoidance. One may well ask why even in today's world of supposedly liberated women they still comply with such restrictions? The forces exerted by my informants are a very important deterrent as by ignoring these rules women may be ostracized from their communities. They would be subjected to severe public shame by being sent home to their place of birth and would have to return from their original home to their in-laws with a gift of some sort in penitence. There are also severe threats of punishment and awful possible consequences such as going bald or becoming barren.

Benedict Carton researching at Umsinga observed that ukuhlonipha is not just applicable to women but extends to generational divisions also. Ukuhlonipha rituals expressly circumscribe the public conduct of women and youths. This ukuhlonipha also has to do with masculinity; women and children are expected to respect the father to help him retain his dignity in his homestead and outside of it. A father who is not respected by his wife and children will automatically be disrespected by other people outside his homestead. Sons learn respect at home by observing their fathers' behaviour so as to act in culturally correct ways in the future when they become fathers in turn. They would then be called on to do as their fathers had done. This is how sons learn to emulate the 'isithombe sikababa', the 'image' (masculine bearing) or 'alter ego' of their fathers. [12] This is one reason why it is important for Zulu fathers to respect and behave in a manner that befits their status as fathers especially in the presence of their (male) children.

In examining the relationship between father and son and the topic of respect, one sees a form of ukuhlonipha and ukuzila (respect and avoidance) operative especially in the son's account of `hiding' of his girlfriend from his father's (and elder men's) presence, and also avoiding any discussion or reference to her existence. This avoidance and respect is extended to all matters relating to the son's sexual activities. For instance, a son may not mention that he visited his girlfriend in the presence of his father, having obtained permission to court the girl from either senior isinsizwa or elder brothers (likewise a girl has had to get permission to have a lover from her senior girls (amaqhikhiza) [13]. However, a boy's mother and aunts may know about his girlfriend from elder siblings, more especially sisters.

In the various interviews with informants at KwaShange, the question I posed to males was: "How did you show that you were sexually disciplined and respectful in your relationship? Tell me how you behaved with your girlfriend in public?" The question intended to solicit who actually was respected and for what reason, and how this expressed the practice of Zulu masculinity. No doubt, the question presupposed knowledge of Zulu custom and I was attempting to find out not only who was respected, but how important and consistently the custom was still applied. The 1st generation Mr. Gwala answered:

"Mina nginentombi angibange ngenze izinto eziphambene. Okokuqala ngangangazi ukuthi akumele ngihambe ngikhombisa izwe lonke ukuthi ngiqonyiwe. Ngangicasha, ngibaleka uma ngibona umuntu omdala."

["When I had a girlfriend, I did not do bad things (implying he avoided sexual intercourse but complied with the Zulu custom of ukusoma). Firstly I knew that I should not exhibit my relationship in public (such as walking holding hands). I used to hide, and sometimes I ran away if I saw any adult (so as to show them respect)."]

Mr. Gwala explicitly said that he respected his father, other men in the community and elderly people, both men and women. He did this to maintain his father's dignity because failure to comply with the culture of 'hiding' or 'respecting' would mean that his father failed to perform one of his duties as a man, i.e. to teach his son respect. At the same time by hiding he also wanted to retain his own dignity as a person who is not disrespectiful and thus looses dignity within the community. He also mentioned that he did not do bad things, implying that he never had penetrative sex with his girlfriends but they practiced culturally sanctioned ukusoma. During the time of the 1st generation informants it was common, not only within the Zulu culture but in all African cultures, that boys and girls were not expected to abstain from all sexual contact. They were discouraged from indulging in full sexual penetration but were allowed to engage in ukusoma or sex 'between thighs', which would technically maintain a woman's virginity. [14]

The 1st generation Mr. Mthethwa said of his courting behaviour:

"Ngizokwenzela isibonelo nje ukuthi uma usuqonyiwe yintombi wawungalokothi uhambe uthilileka nayo endleleni, obala nje la kubona khona wonke umuntu. Nasekusithekeni njalo futhi izinto owawuzenza kwakungabi yizinto ezingamukelekile ngokwesiko. Insizwa noma intombi ehluleka ukuziphatha nokukhombisa ukuthi ifundisekile yayiye ibizelwe ngasese yilabo abayaziyo nabayijwayele bayitshele ukuthi nokuthi okwenzile kubi, akwamukelekile kumele ikuyeke insizwa."

["I want to give you an example. After having been accepted by my girlfriend as her lover (ukuqonywa) we did not have to display our relationship in public, like walk with her as if she was my wife, kissing as you young people (referring to the interviewers generation) do. Even when we were alone, I had to behave in a manner as befitted an insizwa. I could not do things unacceptable to my culture. An insizwa or intombi (girl) who fails to behave (or is undisciplined) would be called aside by those who are close to them (senior peers) and advised on how to act correctly."]

Like Mr Gwala, Mr. Mthethwa also a first generation informant did not expose and disclose his relationships with girls and for the same reasons as those of Mr. Gwala, he avoided walking with girls in public. However, he does admit that they met in private places. He says even then he would not do something which was contrary to Zulu culture, implying that he never had penetrative sex with his girl friend(s). The motive was to retain his father's dignity and the entire family's good image, and failure to do so would diminish the father's dignity.

1st generation Mr. Mkhize said the following of correct behaviour in regard to courting in public:

"Mina ngafundiswa ukuthi umuntu uyahlonipha, uma usuqonyiwe, akungabi umgangela nje, kumele uhloniphe abantu abadala, uhlonipha abantu basekhaya nabasendaweni, obaziyo nongabazi. Wawungeke nje ule uvakashisa intombi kini ngaphandle uma sekuyinto esemthethweni, eseyaziwa. Nakhona lapho ubaba uzofihlelwa ngayoyenke indlela ukuthi kukhona ingoduso. Yayingangeni emakhishini. Mina ngakhula ngaleyondlela futhi yangisebenzela ngoba angikaze ngingene emacaleni. Kwakubaleke kakhulu lokhu Mchunu ngoba njengoba uthi ufuna ukuzwa ngokuxhumana phakathi kwensizwa noyise nje. Sasifundisekile thina, kwakuba ihlazo elikhulu ukwenza into ephambene nemfundiso yasekhaya, imfundiso yasendaweni. 'Lifile izwe' Mchunu, lifengani. Ngiyadabuka ngoba izinto ziya ngokubhada."

["I was taught that an insizwa must respect the feelings of elderly people, one's family members and the community at large, both people one knows and those one does not know. One would not be asking one's girlfriend to visit at home unless it was an 'official relationship' (Ukumiswa kweduku). If one's girlfriend was visiting (at home), one's father was not informed, but one's sisters and perhaps mother would know secretly. I grew up under this condition and it worked for me because up until now, I have never been in any trouble. This was very important, Mchunu (referring to interviewer), because as you say, you want to know about father-son relationships. We were teachable and it was a disgrace to do something contrary to these teachings at home and those of society. "The nation is dead now, Mchunu (referring to interviewer), it died in your time. I sympathize with you because of this deteriorating situation!"]

This response from Mr Mkhize, a first generation informant, is essentially similar to those of the first two informants, the reason being that they are of the same generation and their tone of voice was similar. They are angry and accuse the generation of their sons of misbehaviour and are especially critical of the generation of their grandsons. It must be noted that all above informants have no children outside of wedlock; itself indicative of their sound acculturation in historical Zulu customs and masculine ideals.

Era of change: Testimonies of 2nd generation men.

The next generation, born in the late 1950s and early 1960s were in the transitional stage. Many people, particularly men, had to leave rural life and stay in the cities (in this case Pietermaritzburg) where they went for employment because survival depended upon them earning wages. This generation of men had to leave their wives behind (in the rural areas) to go to work in the cities. While working in the cities, nearly all of these men had township girlfriends, unlike their fathers who had practiced ukusoma. Peter Delius and Clive Glaser record that 'penetrative sex was the norm for young urban lovers. According to Mayer, Xhosa men who went to the cities for work were scornful of both ukumetsha [the equivalent of ukusoma] advocated by traditionalists, as well as abstinence advocated by Christians...ukumetsha (ukusoma) was regarded by these men as unfashionable and babyish 'playing'. [15]

2nd generation Mr. Gwala, spoke of his behavior with his girlfriend:

"Nganginazo izintombi, ngangazi kahle ukuthi akumele ngiziphathe kanjani emphakathini, kuliqiniso ukuthi kona yinto eyayaziwa nje ukuthi akumele ule ubonakala uhamba nentombazane esidlangalaleni nje, kwakumele uhambe ucasha. Mina futhi ngingathi nje zazincane kakhulu izinsizwa azazihamba zicashela noma ubani, kugcine sekungesiyona into eyenziwayo leyo. Ucasha ucashani? Kwakungawenzi umqondo ukuhamba ucashela umuntu mhlawumbe ongenandaba nokuthi ukubona uhamba nentombazane. Kodwa-ke abadala engibaziyo futhi abasondelene nasekhaya ngangizama ukuhlonipha ngiqhelelane nentombazane leyo aze adlule umuntu omdala."

["I had girlfriends, but I knew very well how to behave with them in the community. It is a fact that was well known that it was not good to be seen walking around with one's girlfriend anyhow and anywhere. We had to hide! But I know that few boys of our time would just hide for any elderly person. It was done (by some of my generation). Hiding, why hide? It did not make sense to hide from a person who probably did not even care that he saw you walking with your girlfriend after all. But I used to hide from people close to my family, my relatives and those who knew me in my area." (Implying that he did not bother to hide his girlfriend if walking with her in town where no family was present.) ]

To the question, "Did you take her (your girlfriend) home?" Mr. Gwala of the 2nd generation continued:

"Yebo ngangiyivakashisa ekhaya, ikakhulukazi ngoba ubaba wayengahlali ekhaya, noma ekhona uma engayibonanga nje...phela yayingagcaluzi, ingangeni ekhishini, yayigcina elawini lami nje, lokho ngangikwenza ngoba ngangikhombisa kona ukuthi ngifundisekile, ngihlonipha ekhaya". ["Yes, I used to take her home, especially because my father was not always at home, even if he was there, as long as he did not see her (it was okay), she would not enter into the kitchen. The reason why I did that was to show that I am disciplined and I respected my father and my family.] (His sister and cousins would take care of his girlfriend).

2nd generation Mr. Mkhize's response regarding how he conducted his courting was:

"Nganginazo izintombi mina ngiseyinsizwa, kodwa ngangihlonipha ngoba ngangingahambi nayo phambi kwabantu abadala engibaziyo. Kwakumele ngizame ukukhombisa ukumhlonipha lowo muntu ngoba uma ngingamhloniphi wayengafike asho kubazali bami. Ubaba-ke wayeyaye ethi uma ezixoxela nje ethi bona babebaleka impela futhi ngisho ngabe kuthiwa abamazi lowomuntu, babecasha nje impela besambonela kude le. Kwakulikhuni kimina ukuthi ngingenza leyonto ngoba uma uhamba edolobheni, uhlangana nabantu abaningi, bazi ngani ukuthi intombi yakho le ohamba nayo noma udadewenu? Futhi-ke edolobheni akekho umuntu onendaba nomunye."

["I had girlfriends when I was still an insizwa. But I was disciplined because I would not walk with my girlfriend in front of any elderly people that I knew. I had to try to respect these people because otherwise he or she would report my lack of discipline and respect to my parents. My father would sometimes tell a tale that when he and my mother were in the courtship stage, they would run to hide even if it was a person that they did not know. They would hide whilst the person was still at a distance, because he or she should not see who they (the courting couple) are. It was difficult for me to do that, for example, if one was in the city and walking with one's girlfriend and meet many different people that one did not know then how would they if one was walking with one's girlfriend, it may just be one's sister? And (in any case) in the cities, nobody cares about what other people are doing."]

To the question, if Mr. Mkhize took his girlfriend home, he answered:

"Angifuni ukuqamba amanga Macingwane ngangihamba nazo ngizise ekhaya izintombi zami, kodwa ngangenza isiqiniseko sokuthi abadala ekhaya abayiboni, ikakhulukazi ubaba. Ngoba kwakumele ngimhloniphe. Ngangikhombisa kona ukuthi ngifundisekile ngoba yayingachachazi nje ekhaya eyami intombi njengalezi zenu zanamhlanje."

["I do not want to lie to you Macingwane (the interviewer's praise name), I used to take them home, but I would ensure that elderly people at home did not see her, more especially my father, I had to respect him. Well I think I showed that I am disciplined because my girlfriend was not doing things anyhow at home, she hid in my room, unlike your (the interviewer's generation) girlfriends of today."]

2nd generation Mr Mthethwa explained his courtship behaviour:

"Kuliqiniso ukuthi mina ngiseyinsizwa izintombi benginazo, kodwa ngangikhombisa ukuthi ngingumuntu ophuma ekhaya elinemfundiso. Ngangingenzi isinoma kanjani nje. Intombi ibingathi uma ingivakashele ekhaya bese izenzela isinoma ikanjani nje, icanase. Ubaba wabe engahlali kakhulu ekhaya, ngakho-ke bekuba lula uma engekho, uma ekhana yayingangeni ekhishini, nasezindlini nje la kukhona khona abantu, yayikhombisa ukuthi nayo ifundisekile la eqhamuka khona kanti phela nami ngangingafuni ukululaza igama lami nelabazali bami."

["It is true that when I was an insizwa, I had girlfriends, but I showed that I am from a disciplined family and I never did things anyhow. When she visited me at home, she would not behave haphazardly, she would behave in a certain manner. My father spent less time at home, therefore it was easy when he was not there, but if he was there, she would not enter into the kitchen and other rooms where there were people she ought to be showing respect to. I (implying that this included his girlfriend) did not want to humiliate my parents (with incorrect behaviour) in front of the community."]

In assessing the 2nd generation's responses one must note that they found themselves in changed times, namely their going to work in cities away from their home girlfriends or wives and they adapted to their new circumstances by having town girls. These relationships were not as subject to being strictly hidden as were rural girlfriends simply because no family or relations (and especially fathers) were around to be disgraced by their behaviour. At home in the rural areas the respectful forms of behaviour were continued. The custom of Zulu men hiding girlfriends is inherent in the language that they use. Town girlfriends are called 'omakhwapheni' (those hidden under the armpit) while rural wives are called 'abafazi basekhaya' (women of home). When the informants say they respect - a custom learnt from their brothers, senior izinsizwa or older boys - this has to do with masculinity, and is a form of masculinity that is socially constructed. This is 'engraved in their minds'; to them it is the only way to behave, which is why they would not compromise on these issues, and why they fail to understand the next generation's behaviour which may deviate from their own. They believe that men and women are not equal and will never be equal, as children and adults are not equal and it is not even a subject for discussion. In terms of this social construction, women have their own roles and positions and men have their own and each sex ought to conform to the norms of behaviour of their respective sex. All insisted that an insizwa must respect his father (and other elderly people) by practicing such disciplined behaviour as not drinking alcohol, smoking and especially not displaying open affection for a girlfriend in front of elderly men (and in fact hiding her from their presence as mentioned above.) This respect extends in most cases to elderly women and the community at large. Once the relationship has been approved or formalized, it is tacitly accepted that a sexual relationship does exist but it remains the obligation of both parties not to display open affection and behaviour suggestive of sexual relations between them. Such behaviour would include holding hands, kissing, furtive glances and the like. However, these are so forbidden in most rural communities like KwaShange that the informants never referred to them and merely accepted the cultural norm that correct respectful and disciplined behaviour puts such subjects under taboo. One can well question where a Zulu man receives his sexual education, as his father is not the person who will impart it to him. He learns it from his uncles or elder brothers. In fact informants say to the question, "Do you talk to your son about (ucansi) [16] sex? The response will be, "Who...? Me....? I can't talk to (him) them (son/sons) about (ucansi) sex!" This response leaves any research aware that they have breached the etiquette of Zulu culture by asking about a taboo subject. In terms of the modern world where there are so many unmarried pregnancies and there is such a prevalence of HIV/AIDS contracted through sexual intercourse, one would think that this culture has its 'head in the sand' with its denial of modern sexual realities. And indeed this is one of the problems of the culture. As indicated by the 1st generation informant, in the old days, unmarried people practiced ukuhlobonga and ukusoma (a form of external intercourse) but quite obviously this custom had broken down with the demise of ukuhlolwa kwezintombi (virginity testing), and as a result of men going to work in cities where the old ukusoma custom is considered merely 'playing'. Indeed one would not expect a married man to practice ukusoma. It would have been practiced by izinsizwa and their virgin girlfriends.

Sons observe their mothers respecting their fathers and other senior men and they grow up expecting respect from women and this encourages the mentality that a man is greater than a woman and therefore deserves to be respected. As this kind of masculinity is socially constructed it is found even today in the 21st century, where young, izinsizwa still perceive themselves as more important and senior to women of their age.

Concerning the question posed to the 2nd generation informant on how they passed their respect teachings to their sons of the 3rd generation, Mr. Mkhize of the 2nd generation gave a thought-provoking response. He had had misfortune with his sons. His one son, for instance, who was initially my 3rd generation informant died from what was generally suspected to be AIDS. According to Mr. Mkhize, he had behaved in a sexually irresponsible manner: "Mina ngawenza owami umsebenzi, ngibafundiseile abantwana bami (bonke abafana namantombazane) kodwa-ke abathandayo bazithatha iziyalo zami, kodwa abangathandanga abazithathanga." ["I did my job; I did what was expected of me. I disciplined all my children, boys and girls, but some listened to what I was saying but others did not listen to what I was saying."]

Reactions of the 3rd generation: Disparity between fathers and their sons.

The reactions of the 3rd generation differed from that of their fathers, in regard to courtship. Mr. Mkhize of the 3rd generation said:

"Nginayo intombi. Vele ekuqaleni bengiba nezintombi ngambili ngantathu, futhi bengilala nazo zonke. Manje sengiyasaba ngenxa yalesisifo sengculazi, senginentombi eyodwa. Okunye ukuthi sengikhulile manje sekumele ukuba sengiganiwe. Ngizimisele ukuyishada impela le ekhona manje."

["I do have a girlfriend. Yes, indeed I had more than one girlfriend in the past, and I was in a sexual relationship with them. Now I am terrified of the HIV/AIDS pandemic that is why I now have only one girlfriend. I am also older now, I really have to get a wife. I am prepared to marry her."]

To the question as to whether Mr. Mkhize takes his girlfriend home, the answer was:

"Yebo ngiyayivakashisa ekhaya, mina angisiboni isidingo sokuthi ngile ngiyifihla, ngiyicashisa ngoba vele bayayazi. Kuyangisiza mina ukuthi bayazi ngoba uma sengifikelwa ukuthi ngithathe enye intombazane ngifike nayo ekhaya ngiyazi ukuthi bazongibuza ukuthi isiyephi le abayaziyo...kusiza mina kuyangiqoqa".

["Yes, I do take her home, I see no necessity to hide her because my family knows her anyway. It also helps me that they know her because whenever I feel like proposing to another girl and wish to bring her home, I always think that at home they will not approve because they know that I am in a stable relationship, and they know my present girlfriend who I am involved with. So it helps me to disclose our relationship."]

To the question whether he considers this (bringing his girlfriend home) to be disciplined behaviour, Mr. Mkhize answered:

"Ngifundisekile mina mfowethu, angenze njengalaba abafowethu othola ukuthi umuntu uhamba nengane baxhagene bayaqabulana phambi kwabantu abadala. Mina ngikholelwa ukuthi kumele lezozinto nizenze seninobabili e rumini."

["I am disciplined because I do not do like those gentlemen who walk with their girlfriends and kiss them in front of elderly people. I believe that if one does kiss (one's girlfriend), one should do it privately in one's own room."]

3rd generation Mr. Gwala explained his behaviour:

"Ja mjitha, ngi grend, uyobo mfowethu mina ngi drayiva ama texi aselok'shini and amathekeni mfethu nawe uyazi ukuthi amathekeni ayabagcwala abajitha bamatekisi. Kodwa manta njengamanje nginekobhane eliyi ayina...sengiwabonile amajit' ami mfana efa ngenxa ye gciwane. Nginethekeni yami eyi one and edladleni bayayicava."

["Yes man, I am involved, you see my brother (addressing the interviewer), I am driving taxis in the township and in the taxis my brother, as you know, girls like taxi drivers, but boy (addressing the interviewer), at the moment I have only one girlfriend, I have seen guys dying because of AIDS. I've got only one girlfriend and they (the family) know her at home."]

To the question on how he behaves with his girlfriend in town versus at home, Mr. Gwala answered:

"Ja, man. Uma ngise s'thawa ngiyayibamba and futhi akubi nankinga kodwa cha ukuyiqabula into yethu sobabili leyo. Uma ngingasemadladla asibambani siyahamba nje phela kuyahlonishwa lapha. Uyazi ama ou lady ayakhuluma athi ingane kamas'banibani ayifundisekile."

["Yes man (addressing the interviewer), if we are in the city, I hold her (put my arm around her) and we have no problem with this, but when it comes to kissing, no, that is our own private thing, we do not do it publicly. But when we are near home, I do not hold her, we have to be disciplined and respectful there, you know women talk too much, they will complain quickly that so and so's child is not disciplined."]

Any reading of the 3rd generations responses gives a clear indication of changed times caused by different life styles. As with the 2nd generation, young men have penetrative sex but they are more aware of the dangers of their sexual behaviour leading to HIV/AIDS. There are even cases of the altering of Zulu promiscuity and men having fewer girlfriends. Rules to do with hiding girlfriends are also more relaxed but it is nevertheless incumbent on respectful youngsters to still hide girlfriends especially from the father.

Because of the consistency of the informants claims that sons have to respect their fathers as izinsizwa, this paper gives an overview of 'traditional' Zulu respect in the context of males. It tries to answer the question as to why respect is so significant within such societies, the link of respect to taboo and avoidance and investigates changes in such behaviour over the three generations, suggesting possible reasons for any such changes.

It is not just Nguni women who show respect in language. Certainly men are the main recipients of avoidance language by women, but even men practice a form of such respect and avoidance of language. This is operative in the field and is the reason that my informants will not talk openly about sexual activity, and the hiding of girlfriends is hlonipha of action. To give an example of this respect in language, even I as a young Zulu man cannot bring myself to mention the Zulu words for sexual intercourse, using, as my informants did, the euphemism of ucansi (sleeping mat). That men do respect in language is indicated by the well-known historical example concerning Shaka, the Zulu king who, after traveling some distance without fresh drinking water eventually came upon such a place and wanted to name it amanzi amnandi 'fresh or pleasant water'. However, his mother's name was Nandi and out of respect for her he had to avoid the nandi part of the qualifying syllable, and hence called the place Amanzimtoti, inventing a word i.e. -toti to replace 'nandi'. However, this syllabic avoidance by men is not frequent and research has shown that only in exceptional cases, such as in the case of Shaka, do men hlonipha.

This paper takes into account that respect in anthropological literature focuses on women, yet men must also respect and the paper aims to broaden the understanding of the term respect to include respect by males (izinsizwa) for elderly people (particularly their fathers).

From the interviews with my oral sources it appears that 'Avoidance' and `Respect' [Ukuzila and ukuhlonipha] almost always go together because they relate to the concept of avoiding the sacred, i.e. some aspect that the culture values highly and hence is taboo. In Zulu traditional society, all that pertains to sexual activity is taboo hence there will be respect for others by not mentioning the subject openly. The reason for sex being taboo is because it is linked to concepts of the sacred. Berglund [17] says that sex is associated with power, especially male power or amandla, and this is associated with the realm of the ancestral-spirits. It is believed that the male gives the child's spirit (from or via the ancestors) in conception and that semen is considered to exemplify this power or spirit. Now this is the reason why a man must be respected. It has to do with his embodiment of this power and his relationship with the ancestors. A man who is sexually active is considered to be `hot' and this can endanger society at large if it is not controlled; respect and avoidance act to `cool' down this power. Controlled power has a lot to do with isithunzi or dignity or character, that which a man of status emanates. While it may seem obscure, this same respecting `builds' up a man's dignity. All men who act as homestead heads or priests must abstain from sexual intercourse and meat and alcohol drinking when preparing to enter the domain of the ancestral spirits during family prayers or sacrifices. The ancestors are the ultimate source of power and dignity but they are not `hot' because they are not living men, hence any stepping into their sphere is that of stepping into the sacred. One has to be `cool' or quieted down through respectful behaviour before entering their domain.

One has to link these Zulu concepts with masculinity issues. Zulu men have to be respected so as to maintain their dignity or isithunzi. Any disrespect will reduce a man's dignity. It is still true that a younger man or son may not cast a shadow over his elder, especially his father, hence a son will be careful not to stand in his father's presence. To overshadow an elder (and father) is considered to be a violation and disrespect and a son who does this will be rebuked and incur misfortune in his life. Historically no one could touch a Zulu elder's headring (isicoco) and this was punishable by death. Even today one is not allowed to touch an elderly person on the head.

As with discipline, respect also plays an important role in the relationship between Zulu fathers and their sons. A man who does not respect himself and other people around him is not a man. This appears to be a consistent concept given and accepted as a need to respect by all my informants in the field. In other words, fathers teach their sons to respect because it is part of the Zulu culture that young people respect older people. However, at the same time they also teach them to be real men in turn because respect is one of the necessities of 'Zulu masculinity' and these young men (izinsizwa) who are taught respect will teach their sons to respect in turn. If a man is not respected by his siblings, in particular boys or sons who are expected to perpetuate the family name, he loses his dignity. Surely respect is also an expression then of masculinity.

It is against this Zulu cultural taboo around the topic of sex, that the present day scourge of HIV/AIDS must be seen. It can be assumed that HIV/AIDS has burgeoned under these strict codes of silence or taboo. As can be seen in the data, men do not talk to their sons about sexual education; hence the onus for such education rests with uncles and senior izinsiswa. Any educational program will have to aim at the later category of men. In regard to the father, it is considered sufficient for a boy to be disciplined into showing respect and avoidance. In fact most of the older generation will say that HIV/AIDS is a curse visited upon society by the breaking of these very taboos. An interesting thing I have found in my research is the belief of older Zulu informants that HIV/AIDS is only killing the African younger generation, and not older people or white people because these young people have lost respect for the taboos associated with the correct behaviour regarding sexual matters. Older people dying in the rural area are said to die from other causes, like heart attacks, cancer and the like but for the younger generation dying is believed to be due to HIV/AIDS. The name for HIV/AIDS is Ubhubhane, the root of which is taken from the verb bhubha, meaning, `to die'. Thus the common Zulu word used for HIV/AIDS is associated with death. It is perhaps not obvious but certainly suggested that there is a link between taboo breaking and the curse of death via HIV/AIDS. Any educational program regarding AIDS will have to take into account these strong cultural taboos and find ways to retain them while yet loosening their hold so as to allow for healing and education. AIDS is probably exacerbated by the sexual practice of men who have been living outside of the home who `cleanse' themselves by having sex with 'other' women so as not to bring ill fortune or witchcraft back into the homestead or to their wife/wives. It is a sad irony that this practice has caused the spread of AIDS and all of my 2nd generation informants were men who had town girlfriends simply because they had both wives at home and worked in town and thus practiced `cleansing'. Of cause it is also the custom of isithembu or polygamy that encourages Zulu males to have more than one girlfriend and wife that has also added to this spread of HIV/AIDS. It can be noted that to outsiders the African culture appears immoral, and yet if one knows these cultural practices it is the opposite. The state president Thabo Mbeki has often spoken about these perceptions with regard to Africans being accused of being obsessed with sex and being immoral. If one wanted to one could further this debate by contrasting the source of these outsider's concepts within western Christianity and traditional African world-views. There are promising signs within the third generation of a change in attitude toward sexual practice, as can be seen in the data supplied. This change may indicate that the message of ABC (Abstain, Be faithful and Condomise) has found its mark in these young men who have witnessed their generation decimated by the pandemic.

In KwaShange, there are many families that have experienced the realities of HIV/AIDS. While most are still in the state of denial about their sons and daughters dying because of AIDS, there are those parents who know about AIDS but are not sympathetic towards the dying child, rather rebuking him/her, saying, "We warned you not to behave anyhow with girls but you wouldn't listen. Look, you are causing us problems now. We have to look after you like a baby, and where are your girlfriends now? They have run away." There are some parents who tell their children if they are sick not to pretend that it is flu or a stomach-ache but to be upfront and go to the clinic for an HIV test. These are indications of where the reality of loosing the entire family has taken over from the normal cultural taboo of parents not talking about sex. Such parents are as yet not commonly found in KwaShange, despite the fact that nearly every family has buried children because of this disease. Families that are prospering actually cause tremendous anxiety to those who are suffering from loss of members from AIDS. An example is when I gave a lift to one of my 3rd generation informants in my new car, and my apparent fortune precipitated my informant's expressing the fear that his own family was dying or 'being finished'. He told of a vision of seeing giant glittering black and white snakes and a horse with an upper body of a white person, the latter coming to him as a lightening bolt, which he regarded as a form of healing. He himself shows no symptoms of HIV/AIDS but he has lost numerous members of his family to the sickness. The community understanding of his vision is that the snakes are his brother, who died of AIDS and his mother who died more or less at the same time (of unknown causes), who had come back in anger at his having not been there while they were sick. In African thinking, to see snakes in a dream/vision is an indication of an ancestral spirit visiting and to see a white person is indicative of misfortune. [18] Lightening in Zulu thought derives from the High God, who is 'taking out' a person for his own will or purpose - the person not becoming an ancestor. Although he said that lightning had healed him, he nevertheless interpreted the vision as indicative of huge family problems. I quote this vision because it actually shows the deep psychological distress of one of my informant's family members and how he is trying to come to some kind of intuitive understanding and resolution of what AIDS has actually done to his family. This family's misfortunes include that of members dying because of AIDS is in fact related to a long history of witchcraft or other culturally 'frowned upon' activities and the community and the members of the family see AIDS as part of the punishment. Such symbolic thinking as is found in many families makes a 'cause and effect' interpretation for death by AIDS or a scientific one not readily acceptable.

Mxolisi Russel Mchunu was born in 1977 in Pietermaritzburg. He holds a 2001 BSocSci University of Natal, Durban and a 2002  B SocSci (Hons) University of Natal, Durban. Currently registered for a History MA with the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, his thesis is titled "Discipline, Respect and Ethnicity: a study of the changing patterns of fatherhood of three generations of Zulu fathers and sons in the Inadi, Vulindlela area of Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal from the 1930s to the 1990s." He is currently working as Education Officer at the Campbell Collections of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban. His research interests include the politics of the 1980s and 1990s in KwaZulu-Natal, which was the topic of his History Honours thesis. He has given a number of papers, some of which are forthcoming, including: "The Advent of the 'Kitchen Suits': Understanding Zulu Male Initiation" and "Zulu fathers and their sons: the importance of discipline." With Campbell Collections museologist Yvonne Winters, he has co-authored a study of the artist Trevor Makhoba entitled, "Great Temptation in the garden: Trevor Makhoba as Taboo Breaker". E-mail:


Berglund, A (1976). 'Zulu Thought-Patterns and Symbolism.' Bloomington IN

Campbell, C (1992). 'Learning to Kill? Masculinity, the Family and Violence in Natal', Journal of Southern African Studies 18 (3).

Carton, B (2000). 'Blood from Your Children: The Colonial Origins of Generational Conflict in South Africa.' Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press.

Delius, P and Glaser, C, 'Sexual Socialisation in South Africa: A Historical Perspective', in African Studies (Special Edition: AIDS in Context), 61.1 (2002).

McClendon, V. T (2002). Genders and Generations Apart: Labour Tenants and Customary Law in Segregation-Era South Africa, 1920s to 1940s. Cape Town, South Africa. David Phillip Publishers.

Morrell, R (2001). 'Changing Men in Southern Africa.' Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal.

Vilakazi, A (1965). 'Zulu Transformations: A study of the dynamics of social change.' Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press.


1. This paper is taken from my Masters thesis titled: Discipline, Respect and Ethnicity: A study of the changing patterns of fatherhood of three generations of Zulu fathers and sons in the Inadi, Vulindlela area of Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal from the 1930s to the 1990s. The research draws on case studies (interviews) of three generations of fathers and sons from three different Zulu families living in Inadi. The study focuses on how fathers have been raising their sons within these three generations and I look at the causes of changes over the period 1930s to 1990s. 1st generation informants born in the 1930s are biological fathers of the 2nd generation informants born in the 1950s and 3rd generation informants born in the 1970s are biological sons of 2nd generation informants.

2. A. Vilakazi, Zulu Transformations: A study of the dynamics of social change (Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press, 1965) 26.

3. A. Vilakazi, Zulu Transformations. 26

4. I have not only relied upon anthropological literature for this information but have in fact taken it from an observation of my own family, especially my aunts and mother at KwaShange, Vulindela, Pietermaritzburg, who all still practice Inhlonipho.

5. R. Morrell, Changing Men in Southern Africa (Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press) 8.

6. R. Morrell, Changing Men in Southern Africa. 8.

7. R. Morrell, Changing Men in Southern Africa. 9.

8. R. Morrell, Changing Men in Southern Africa 9.

9. R. Morrell, Changing Men in Southern Africa. 9

10. SAFM, Regular Column (2003-10-19)

11. A.Vilakazi, Zulu Transformations 26.

12. B. Carton in R. Morrell, Changing Men in Southern Africa, 135.

13. Mark Hunter, "Fathers without amandla?: What does power mean to men- and what happens to fathers and their families if they are disempowered? Mark Hunter summarizes some of the findings of research into changing relationship in KwaZulu-Natal over the past 50 years.

14. P. Meyer. Townsmen or Tribesmen: Conservatism and the Process of Urbanization in a South African City (Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 1961), 253.

15. Delius and Glaser, "Sexual Socialisation in South Africa: A Historical Perspective" in African Studies Journal (Special Edition: AIDS in Context), 61.1 (2002) 45.

16. In the field, the Zulu euphemism used for talking about "sexual contact" is ucansi (sleeping mat), while the description for "sexual intercourse" is translated as ukuya ocansini (to go to the sleeping mat).

17. A. Berglund, Zulu Thought-Patterns and Symbolism (Bloomington IN: 1976)

18. In African thinking white people came out of the sea as monsters and are more like animals, than human. This is not necessarily the modern view of African people concerning white people but is nevertheless the original interpretation of early Zulu. Thus it must be very deeply entrenched in the psyche of the African and would be the cultural interpretation of the dream image of the young man in question.

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